Oil Down – a Grenadian one-pot wonder of exploding flavours

Oil Down is the National Dish of Grenada

Oil Down – a Grenadian one-pot wonder of exploding flavours

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Woodsmoke drifted and wafted up Grand Anse Beach as we ambled slowly along. It was Carnival time in Grenada and from every direction the sound of soca filled the air and people were dancing together. Children splashed in and out of the Caribbean Sea as the sun began to set. A group of our friends were gathered under a large sea grape tree by the Vendor’s Market. They were happily crowded around a large pot with a lid. Beckoning us over we were handed plates and forks and the lid was removed from the pot. With much laughter and joy we were served with some of this gorgeous dish: Oil Down. The pot had been packed with local produce.

“Oil Down, cooking ah pot ah, Oil Down, look at yuh daughta, Oil Down, everybody done, Oil Down, are we ready for di mass? Ready to play – yeh”
(Tallpree’s 2012 soca song – “Oil Down”)

Ralph's sister-in-law Judy cooks Oil Down in the Kitchen at The Fishy Pot
Cooking Oil Down in Ralph’s kitchen at The Fishy Pot, Grand Anse Vendor’s Market.

Oil Down is a gorgeous one-pot cook-up featuring breadfruit, callaloo, seasoned chicken, bananas, salted pig’s tail and pig’s snout, pimento peppers, turmeric, and coconut milk. Somebody chops the vegetables, somebody prepares the meat. It’s all cooked together in a lovely big pot over a charcoal or wood fire, and supported by three large stones.The water evaporates and leaves the coconut oil to mix in – hence the name Oil Down – the callaloo imparts a lovely spinach-like flavour. Then it’s shared around – a big stewed pot of fabulous Grenadian flavours – the essence of communal cooking in this very friendly country. Oil Down is the pinnacle of Grenadian cuisine. A tropical climate, volcanic soil and amazing agricultural history conspire to produce this wonder!

All over Grenada Oil Down is cooked up on the beach in this fashion. This is the spirit of Grenada. Sharing food is at the very heart of Grenada culture. Grenadians love to eat like this – deep in conversation and friendship, with music and drink. Everybody has their own variant of the recipe – there is a consensus, however, about what constitutes a true Grenadian Oil Down – and what should not be added. Sometimes yams, okra, green beans or scallions are added, sometimes fish or crabs. Some people even add lambie (Grenadian conch) to the pot. Other vegetables are christophene, pak choi and cabbage that add variety to the dish and make it more personal to the cook. In Europe or the US spinach can successfully replace the callaloo.

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Oil Down – a recipe
This recipe is adapted from the excellent book: “Great Grenada Recipes” by Wendy Hartland, (Published by Island Recipes Unlimited). This book is available in shops and supermarkets around Grenada, and in the superb bookshop “Art and Soul” in Spiceland Mall, Grand Anse.

1 large breadfruit, cut into 6 to 8 pieces
8oz salted meat (salted beef, salted pigtail or salted pigs snout, or a mixture of all three!)
4 seasoned chicken quarters, cut as thighs and drumsticks
4 green bananas or bluggoes,
1 cup of salt fish, cooked and flaked
2 carrots, chopped
Three scallions
Three pimento peppers
5 tbsp turmeric powder
7 cups of coconut milk
1 bunch of callaloo leaves, with stalks – chopped
12 dumplings (flour, salt and water)

In Grenada salted pigtail and pigs snout are readily available at supermarkets and butchers. Callaloo grows in ditches, by the roadside and around streams
Oil Down – the cooking method
The salted meat is soaked overnight in cold water, then boiled for 20 minutes. A large, heavy pan is used for the main cooking. The bottom is lined with breadfruit and then alternate layers of of salted meat, chicken, salt fish and the other vegetables. Turmeric powder, chopped scallions and peppers are added. The coconut milk is poured in, and the dumplings are added. The whole lot is covered with the chopped callaloo leaves. Finally the lid is placed on the pan and the mixture is brought to the boil. The mixture is kept at a high temperature for 30 minutes, and then simmered for a further 30 minutes. This recipe is for 4 people, if you use a larger pot and more ingredients you should extend the cooking time up to 1-2 hours. The pot should be frequently checked to see the ingredients have cooked and the mixture is oily. This is the time to check the flavour. You may want to add some more seasoning – maybe a generous splash of Grenadian hot pepper sauce to really spice it up! After the cooking time the coconut milk has boiled down leaving an oil, and has soaked into the breadfruit. This is the source of the name “Oil Down”.

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Restaurants where they serve the most delicious Oil Down!
I can recommend the Oil Downs at the following restaurants as a lunchtime special:-

Le Chateau – on the Mont Toute Road. Thursday is Oil Down day at lunchtime
The Coconut Beach, Grand Anse Beach, on Thursday at lunchtime.
The Fishy Pot, Grand Anse Vendor’s Market (next door to Esther’s Beach Bar). You’ll need to ask when it’s on the menu, but I had mine on a Friday lunchtime.
Andy’s Soup House, Grand Anse Valley.

All of these places are close to the Siesta Hotel. You should not pass by the chance to savour this – the National Dish of Grenada.

Back to Tallpree’s song:-

“In Grenada, we favourite dish is Oil Down, and when we play mas, everybody does Oil Down”